advice for parents of missionaries

Advice for Parents of Missionaries

It can be a difficult and emotional process to send a loved one to the mission field. It may require open and honest communication, prayer, and guidance from mentors or advisors. With faith, trust, and obedience to God, we can navigate these challenges as family members and parents of missionaries.

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The Eldest Son in a Missionary Family

When Nik Ripken’s son asked to participate in missionary work, Nik felt both proud and protective of his son in this situation. On one hand, he admired his son’s passion for missionary work and desire to make a positive impact in Somalia. On the other hand, he worried about the dangers and challenges that come with working in a volatile and unpredictable environment:

I asked him, “You’re about to graduate in a couple months. You’ve got to let me know what you want for graduation.” And he looked at me, and said, “Dad, what I want for graduation is I want you to change your mind. I want to start going into Somalia and start doing projects with you in Somalia.”

My wife began to sob. There were tears in my eyes.

Half of me was so proud that my son wanted to do this. The other half was saying, “God, I’ve done this for our family for seven years. Now keep your hands off my son.”

For a brief moment, Nik Ripken experienced empathy for the parents of missionaries who worry about the safety and well-being of their children while they are working in challenging environments.

Parents of Successful Missionaries Bless Their Children

Fear is a common feeling among parents of missionaries based on the risks and challenges that come with missionary work in certain parts of the world. It is important for parents and their children to have open and honest communication about the risks and challenges involved in the work and to have a plan in place for staying safe and healthy while in the field.

Family members must respect the autonomy and passion of the missionaries themselves, who have a desire to teach others who Christ is. Empathy, communication, and mutual respect are key in navigating the complex emotions and decisions involved in missionary work and the impact it can have on families.

Obedience to God vs. Obedience to Parents

Nik discusses the tension that can arise between obedience to God and to parents when serving as a missionary:

Within a week or two, Ruth and I can tell whether new people who come to the mission field have been blessed by their family to come or whether they have not been blessed by their family to come.

One of the horrible truths that our listeners are going to struggle with is that non-believers bless their children to work overseas for the Kingdom of God a lot easier and quicker than Christian people do.

You’ve got moms and dads that are trying to bring people off the mission field.

Missionaries may feel obligated to honor and respect their parents. However, our ultimate allegiance should be to God and His calling on our lives. This can create a difficult situation when parents may not understand or support their child’s decision to become a missionary. They may even actively oppose it.

Nik remarks that non-believers are often supportive of their child’s decision to serve as a missionary. Non-believing parents may not have the same religious convictions or concerns about safety and well-being on the mission field. On the other hand, Christian parents may struggle with the idea of their child going into a potentially dangerous or challenging environment. Often they worry about the impact on their family relationships.

It is harder to send than to go, Nik concludes.

should we reach our own country first

Should We Reach Our Own Country First?

Are the needs of the lost so great in America that we need to reach our own country first? Nik says no. If we wait to completely unite America as believers before we go to other nations, he explains, we will not fulfill the Great Commission as Christ commanded.

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An Excuse Not to Evangelize

When it comes to sharing one’s faith with others, there are often a variety of excuses that people use to avoid evangelizing. One of the most common excuses is the idea that we need to focus on the needs of our own country first, before we can think about spreading the gospel to other nations.

This excuse is not a new one, and it is often rooted in a sincere desire to meet the needs of those in our own communities. After all, there are many challenges and struggles that people face in our own countries. Our neighbors face poverty, homelessness, addiction, and other issues that can be difficult to overcome.

However, while it is certainly important to address these issues, we should not use them as an excuse to avoid evangelism altogether.

For Love of God and Country

In fact, the call to share the gospel transcends national boundaries and cultural differences. It is a task that Christ has called all Christians to participate in.

For most people, a local commitment to local evangelism is not the honest reply to avoid going among the nations.

“I cannot go to the nations until all of those spiritual needs of a nation are met…” means I’ll never go to the nations because we’ll never meet the needs.

In other words, while it is important to address the needs of our own communities, we should never use this as an excuse to avoid sharing the gospel with others. Instead, we should strive to be faithful to the call of Christ, and to share His message of hope and salvation with everyone we encounter, whether they are in our own communities or in other nations around the world.

Ultimately, the excuse not to evangelize is not a valid one, and it is important for us to recognize this and to step out in faith. We’ll have to trust that God will use our efforts to spread His message of love and grace to all who need it.

“It is an excuse that most people find acceptable,” Nik explains.

Why Does God Allow Tragedy?

As difficult as it may be to understand, God can use tragedy to draw people to Himself. He can use it to show His love and compassion to those who are hurting. He can also use it to bring about change and transformation in our lives:

We know that oftentimes, God will bring tragedy in the lives of those who say no in order to let them reconsider about the Kingdom of God. God will often bring arrest and persecution in the lives of us believers to send us as a witness to the high places of government.

Nik shares a word of warning for those reluctant to share the gospel with other nations.

“If we don’t scatter ourselves, God cares so much for lost people that he will scatter us himself.”

is the great commission for everyone

Is the Great Commission for Everyone?

Are you feeling called to missions? Is the Great Commission for everyone? In this episode, Nik Ripken asserts that it doesn’t matter whether you feel called to missions or not. He explains that we are all commanded by Jesus to share the gospel throughout all the nations.

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What Does God Call Us To Do in Matthew 28:18-20?

Matthew 28:18-20 is a well-known passage that outlines the mission that God has called us to do. In this passage, Jesus gives us a clear command:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

Making disciples involves sharing the Good News with others and teaching them about Jesus Christ. We are called to be witnesses for Him so that others will know about His crucifixion and resurrection. Additionally, we need to offer spiritual guidance by helping people develop their relationship with God through prayer and study of scripture. Ultimately, our goal should be helping individuals grow closer to Christ so they can experience His transformative power in their lives.

Debunking a Call to Missions

Nik firmly believes that Christ has commanded everyone to share the gospel in all nations, and a call to missions is just to help us decide which country we should go to. He claims the act of evangelizing is not only a mission for full-time missionaries: it’s a duty for every believer.

However, Nik also tells us about his first experience with a mission board that felt differently:

For the next 30 minutes, they gave me a four-point sermon. They took turns with it. With this mission board, for you to be a missionary in an overseas setting, you had to have a four-fold call. You had to have a call to salvation, a call to ministry, a call to missions, and a call to a particular country.

The panel asked a young Nik Ripken what he thought about their call. Then, Nik’s response stunned the mission board:

I said, “It sounds like to me that you Baptists have created a four-fold call that gets you to missions. It allows you to be disobedient to what Jesus has commanded you to do.”

I got a one-way ticket to Africa.

After serving for 35 years, Nik Ripken still believes that the Great Commission is for everyone.

Why is Christianity Declining in the West?

Although it can be tempting to live in comfort, Ripken explains that we must be willing to spread the gospel beyond our own churches or communities. Otherwise, our faith will suffer drastically:

In the Western world, Christianity is declining because we’ve turned the command of Jesus into something else: some miraculous, secondary call that we are to hear. What are we supposed to do? Hear the voice of God again, saying, “I’m calling you; get up and go to the mission field?”

If we do not engage in cross-cultural work, Nik believes, our churches become inward-looking rather than outwardly-focused on teaching others about Christ’s path to salvation.

Do Miracles Happen in America

Do Miracles Happen in America?

Sometimes Christians in the West can get so caught up in the stories of miracles taking place overseas that we forget to be grateful for what we enjoy at home. Do miracles even happen in America?

In this episode, Nik Ripken reminds us that America is blessed with an overt miracle. We’re talking about the freedom to worship in a land of abundance.

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Are Bibles Allowed in China?

When Nik visited 150 Chinese pastors in a network of persecuted house churches, he was shocked to see them tearing the Bible apart. After ripping each book of the Bible into individual portions, they handed each pastor one book to take home as a resource.

However, Nik noticed their frustration at once:

[The Chinese pastors] got upset with me. They said, “Nik, you’ve got to explain to us…. Why is it that God loves his children in America so much more than he loves his children in China?” I was just dumbfounded.

In China, there are restrictions on how Bibles can be obtained and distributed. For example, only state-sanctioned churches can stock or sell bibles. Any other attempt at distribution may face consequences such as fines or imprisonment.

Believers cannot vocalize praise songs. Instead, they sit knee-to-knee and mouth the words without making sounds. If their voices were to be heard outside their homes, the military police would swiftly arrive to enforce Chinese government policy and shut down the practice.

The pastors helped Nik to better understand the challenges of the persecuted church:

They said, “Nik, you’ve watched us tear our Bibles into shreds and let people go home with the Book of Genesis, or John, or Psalms…. You’re telling us that in Ethiopia, where you and your family live right now, you have seven different translations just for you?”

Nik recalled that these pastors had been denied access to Bibles for so long. Yet, they were still so devoted to teaching from the Bible that they physically divided God’s Word among themselves.

Tearing the sacred text apart was the Chinese pastors’ response to scarcity within the persecuted church. This incredible example of solidarity and commitment to faith despite religious persecution moved Nik deeply.

Religious Freedom in America

On one Sunday morning, Nik took a Muslim-background believer to an American church for the first time. The newcomer was thrilled to see that the service started with a baptism of an entire family.

She surprised Nik with her reaction:

I can’t believe it! You’re telling me that an entire family is baptized in public, and [the father] is not going to be beaten, put in prison, and killed? His wife and his daughters are not going to be forced to marry a 60-70 year old man in a mosque, and disappear in another wife’s house? His son is not going to be put in a conservative Muslim village and disappear and never be found again? I think I’m going to stand up and shout! I’ve never seen America like this!

Nik Ripken asserts that miracles do happen in America. We enjoy an abundance of religious freedoms and resources unlike anything that exists in the Muslim world. Therefore, the peace we experience as a result is an overt miracle in itself.

God is with us

God Is With Us

We’ve heard that Satan is a liar. But how many of his lies do we actually fall for? In this episode, Nik Ripken advises against believing the lie that the Bible is nothing more than a record in past tense of what God used to do. He is still very much active in this world today. God is with us, and His influence matters the most in some of the darkest places.

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Biblical Miracles Today

When it comes to modern-day miracles, this story of a Muslim man struggling to keep his family together is truly inspiring. Desperate for help, he felt that he had nowhere else to turn. After asking for counsel from the spiritualist of his jungle village, the man had a dream where a voice spoke to him. “Find Jesus, and find the Good News,” the voice instructed:

We Westerners knew of three men – believers – out of 17 million people. No families, no women… three people. The Holy Spirit of the Living God took that man from his bed, over the mountain, up the coast, and to the door of one of those three believers.

This dream led the Muslim man to Nik Ripken, an American missionary who could provide answers. After meeting Nik, the Muslim man was thrilled to learn about Christianity. Despite his illiteracy, he returned to the jungle, changed his lifestyle, and rebuilt his family.

God is Still With Us

Nik reminds our audience that God is still with us! He maintains that we have to look for his miracles in the most unexpected places. He encourages us to fulfill the Great Commission and travel to lost nations, where we can often find evidence of God’s power:

If you want to see the miracles of God, such as the ones that are in the Bible, you might have to get in a bus, a car, or an airplane and go where God’s doing those miracles. Why would God need to do overt miracles in the midst of a church that has full access to the Kingdom of God?

Nik claims that America is experiencing a cultural problem of “Jesus Plus,” wanting both Jesus and a luxurious lifestyle with success and wealth.

While our faith tells us that God is a very real part of our lives, we can fall away from Him if we focus too much on materialism. When we no longer see a wealthy lifestyle as a blessing from God but as something we deserve, we may end up abandoning biblical principles.

What Do Muslims Believe About Jesus?

Muslims believe that Jesus is one of the most important and revered prophets of God. He is an integral part of Islamic history and literature, with many stories about His life found in different texts. However, there are some significant differences between Islam and Christianity when it comes to understanding His life story.

According to Nik, Muslims often decide to make a spiritual pilgrimage in search of answers:

Muslims will go to one, two, and three countries until… if they are literate, they’ll find the book. Muslims will read it three to five times before they say “Yes” to Jesus. It will take them 30 or 40 encounters with people like you and myself. They’ll get a story here, a story there, and it’s a great day when they find the Jesus film in their language.

For many followers of the Islamic faith, conversion to Christianity is often seen as an act of betrayal and apostasy. Nik suggests that Muslims often convert to Christianity after claiming to have met Christ in their dreams or visions.

How Can We Know God?

The Bible serves as one of the primary guides for Christians looking to better understand God’s will. Studying biblical stories provides believers with examples on how we should live out our faith. But how can Muslims know God, especially when they may be illiterate or trained in Islam?

Many find it challenging to know how to experience Him in a connected way:

They’re saying, “No, how can I understand if I have no one to explain these things to us?” That’s why God is leading them to folks like us. We’re connecting them with believers in their culture that they had no way of knowing they were there.

Missionaries like Nik Ripken work with Muslim-background believers in their own cultural contexts. Doing so helps them to understand and embrace Christianity while maintaining their native culture.

Nik also connects these new believers with other Christians in their communities. This gives them a support network as they grow stronger in faith.

how to share the gospel

How to Share the Gospel: Four Questions

In this episode, Nik Ripken explores four guiding questions that witnesses can use when sharing the gospel with those we encounter. By answering these four questions, we can better understand how to share the gospel and offer salvation through Christ to the people we meet.

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Four Guiding Questions for Sharing the Gospel

Previously, Nik Ripken presented two important questions to consider when sharing the gospel. This week, Nik reviews two more – for a total of four guiding questions that can help witnesses bring the gospel into conversations:

  1. What do I say?
  2. Who do I say it to?
  3. Who will hold me accountable for sharing my faith?
  4. What do we do when they say yes?

He speaks from his own experience in ministry and offers advice on how to be an effective witness for Christ.

How to be an Effective Witness for Christ

What do I say?

It is important that we understand what we are sharing: the good news of salvation through Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. Still, Nik suggests we tell the other stories too:

When we follow [the lineage] from Jesus back to Isaac and back to Abraham, the genesis of [the conflict between Christianity and Islam] is in the story. […] Yet, when you find out in the story that the promise was given to Abraham but only through one woman… through Sarah or through nobody… that sets their worldview upside-down.

Sharing the gospel is most effective when our own faith journey is firmly rooted, built on a solid understanding of Christ’s teachings and a history of leading our lives accordingly.

Who do I say it to?

Once we feel confident in our knowledge, we can identify people in our communities to share this message with. In the previous episode, Nik emphasized the need for missionary teams to match the demographics of the people they are trying to reach:

The [main] way that Muslims come to Christ is by sharing meals with believers like us. As our kids grew, we would bring single women and men with us, and young families with us. People must see themselves in… who is saying it.

When someone expresses interest in learning more about Christianity, Nik recommends that we invite them into our homes for a meal. This provides an  environment for more intimate conversations about faith in a relaxed setting while giving new believers an opportunity to see how followers of Christ lead their lives.

Who will hold me accountable for sharing my faith?

It can be helpful to have someone else hold us accountable for sharing our faith. Nik recommends that we find accountability partners who will remind and encourage us to share our beliefs about Christ:

We used to have to turn in monthly [reports] to my supervisor, and I had five teams that had to report to us. Each month, a major part of that report was… how many times have you gotten to the resurrection? How many times have you shared meals in your house with those who are not in the Kingdom of God?

Staying connected with other Christians in a Bible study group helps us grow in our faith. It also provides us with accountability partners as we strive towards spreading God’s message of love and redemption.

What do we do when they say yes?

Once someone has accepted Christ, it’s important to follow up and equip him or her with the right resources. Having a supportive community is essential for new Christians because it provides encouragement, guidance, and accountability:

With Muslims, we need to preload everything they need to know about the Kingdom of God. By the time a Muslim takes [a] believer’s baptism, you have an adult believer that can go and do anything that you can do. But Hindus come to Christ in such a way that if you leave them at baptism after their profession of faith, you’ve left a brand new baby on the street.

Nik recommends that we equip new believers with knowledge by taking them through Biblical truths, offering insight into how living according to scripture should look like, and encouraging them throughout their spiritual growth. Mentoring is key in helping newly converted believers get grounded in the foundations of Christianity so that they can share God’s Word with others.

Sharing the Gospel in the Xhosa Language

When Nik first embarked on his missionary journey in South Africa, he had to communicate with locals in the Xhosa language. He was nervous because he had only spent one year learning Xhosa. Nik’s mentor dropped him off at a South African woman’s doorstep, where Nik found himself alone without a translator:

He leaves me there on the porch with that woman by myself. I just know very basic words of sharing my faith, and he’s gone – run off with some of his buddies – and I’m standing there with that woman by myself. I shouldn’t be in that situation. So I said, in the Xhosa language, “I’ve come to tell you about Jesus.”

And she said, “Ndixelele” [Tell me].

Nik mustered up the courage and spoke with her in Xhosa. She happily accepted the message of faith Nik shared with her. However, Nik was so nervous about his ability to share the gospel in the Xhosa language that he rejected her initial acceptance of Christ. He laboriously retold the gospels to her several times in the South African heat:

I said, “No! It’s not possible that you could understand me. My language is not that good! You can’t understand, so I’m going to tell you everything again… louder and slower.” […] And I finished a second time… and I said, “No! My language is terrible, and I don’t want you believing anything less than the truth.”

So I started a third time…

When Nik’s guide came back, he asked the South African woman (in Xhosa), “How’s this white boy doing?”

And that young Xhosa lady looked at [him], with all the frustration she could muster, and she said, “This white man won’t let me come to Jesus!”

Sharing the gospel can be a daunting task. It’s natural to fear how people may respond, which can keep us from having those important conversations. Answering these four questions will help keep us on track to becoming an effective witness.

Don't mess with grandma

Effective Witnessing Strategies

In restrictive countries, mission work must be approached with caution in order to avoid betrayal and retaliation. Nik explains that it’s safer and more effective for young mission teams to evangelize to the elders rather than to the children of Islamic communities. Join Nik as he explores effective witnessing strategies for growing the church in persecuted communities.

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Guiding Questions for Young Teams

Evangelizing is an important aspect of Christianity and can be a daunting task for many. Knowing how to communicate the gospel effectively to others can be difficult. Nik presents two important questions to help guide the process:

  1. What do I say?
  2. Who do I say it to?

These two questions are essential for understanding how best to express our faith and share it with others. He encourages us to think critically about what we want to say. We should carefully decide which outlets are best suited for this kind of dialogue.

Effective Witnessing in Restrictive Countries

In today’s world, it can be a difficult task to bring Christianity into restrictive places where Islam prevails. Unfortunately, the consequences of this can be severe. Those who try to share the Christian faith without proper caution in such places may face violent threats and death.

If you’re going into a very restrictive place… you reach children in Islam and you won’t survive it. You’ll have guns cocked and put in your face like my own team did when I warned them not to do it. […] They did something like… “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”… teaching first graders and kindergarteners, and our guards came down off the wall, stuck AK-47s cocked in the faces of our young women workers and said, “You’re teaching our children a new way to pray. If you don’t stop it right now, you’re dead. You will not steal our children into Christianity.”

While it can be tempting to target children with the gospel message, Nik explains why this approach may not be the best option. Instead, Nik argues that it is safer and more effective for young mission teams to evangelize to the elders. Culturally, religious upbringing in Islamic communities starts at home under the careful watch of the mother. Therefore, change begins at home within the family.

Build Teams that Mirror the Target Audience

When it comes to witnessing, those who are being witnessed to should feel understood and accepted. This is why Nik advises building a diverse missionary team so that everyone witnessed to can relate to the message. Diversity not only allows people of different backgrounds to be represented, but it also helps the message resonate with as many people as possible.

Now we know how to build our teams. We know to have singles on them… we’re going to have young couples with brand new babies, those with teenagers, those with children out of the home…. We’re going to build a team where the witnessing mirror is as wide as possible so that everyone witnessed to can see themselves in that witnessing mirror. If they don’t see themselves in that story, gender-wise and age-wise from the very youngest to the very oldest, they’ll say to you explicitly, “We thought that Jesus was just for young people.”

Nik tells stories of various misconceptions in other nations, such as the false belief that only young people can be saved or that Christians are unable to have children as a result of following Christ. Through his journey, Nik has been able to correct these misunderstandings and gain insight into the cultures of other nations.

Challenges to Fulfilling the Great Commission

Challenges to Fulfilling the Great Commission

Missionaries fulfill the Great Commission in some of the most dangerous places in the world. Despite an accurate and cautionary security briefing from the U.S. Army, Nik’s unfortunate decision to trust a local Somali informant jeopardized his life.

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A Story Full of Holes

Narrowly escaping this open shooting changed his understanding of humanity. Nik asked Hassan, his Somali guide and trusted acquaintance, why he would lie to him and put their lives in mortal danger:

I grabbed him by the shirtfront and pulled him close to me. I was so scared, I was so angry, and I said, “Why did you lie to me? You almost got me killed! The truck is full of [bullet] holes. It was exactly like the U.S. military told me. Why did you lie to me?”

Hassan replied that Nik wasn’t worth receiving the truth because they had just met.

Why Do People Lie?

Perhaps the better question is, “Why do some people tell the truth?”

Honesty is a concept that is deeply rooted in biblical teachings (Exodus 20:16, Leviticus 19:11, Ephesians 4:15). The Bible instructs Christians to be truthful so that we may preserve our relationships. This has created an expectation of moral integrity in Christian communities.

From its founding fathers to modern day politicians and leaders, America’s culture is heavily shaped by its Christian roots. Naturally, Nik expected the people he met in Somalia to behave according to this moral standard.

However, Christians should not expect the same of Muslims who do not share the same worldview. It’s risky business to attribute Christian attributes to non-Christians, and it almost got Nik killed.

Lying in Islam

Muslims have different religious texts and their own set of circumstances that permit dishonesty. In Islam, it’s lawful to lie when preserving one’s honor, demoralizing an enemy, fighting a war, and pleasing one’s spouse, as well as when it’s advantageous for the individual (Jami` at-Tirmidhi 1938). The truth is given selectively, not to all, and not in all situations.

Hassan explained this to Nik after his betrayal:

Dr. Nik, you need to understand.

There’s a truth that Somalia and I tell the world.

Then there’s a deeper truth that my clan and I tell Somalia.

There’s a deeper truth that my family and I tell our clan.

Then there’s a deeper truth that my brother and I tell our family.

There’s a deeper truth that I tell my brother.

And there’s a deeper truth that I tell to God.

But what I really believe – the deepest of all truths – I whisper down a well at midnight so no one can hear.

The existence of so many exceptions where it is lawful to lie suggests that there isn’t much of a relatable standard at all. Nik wonders if the Great Commission can take hold in such places:

How do you make Jesus known when the truth has to go through six or seven filters to be accepted as the truth from the throne of God? How can they see that Jesus died for them, and gave his life for them, and that is the mark of a real man – a tough man – a Godly man?

Nik urges missionaries to remember that the people they interact with may have an adversarial worldview when it comes to telling the truth.

Is the Old Testament Still Relevant Today?

The Old Testament is still relevant today because not all people of all nations have learned of the New Testament. Somalis have lived in Old Testament violence and chaos for the past 2000 years.

Famine and civil war ravage Somalia. Hatred and violence have caused the displacement of millions of people, leaving many with limited access to resources and medical care.

Fundamentalists have taken over much of the territory in Somalia, creating a hostile environment that threatens even the well-intentioned foreigner.

In Somalia, Hassan explained to Nik that it’s every man for himself:

It’s Somalia and I against the world.

And it’s my clan and I against Somalia.

It’s my sub-clan against our clan.

My family works against my sub-clan.

It’s my brother and I against my father, trying to take his place of authority within the family.

Most of all, it’s my brother against me.

Poverty-stricken citizens lack basic resources such as food and clean water while violent crime rates soar due to widespread corruption and instability. In addition, medical professionals are few and far between in rural areas meaning preventable illnesses continue to plague the population. Somali children suffer from chronic malnutrition due to famine conditions which continues to put their lives at risk every day.

Somalia Resembles Dante’s Inferno

Somalia has become an unrecognizable version of Dante’s Inferno. Still, Nik is confident that the Great Commission extends to places like these:

“When you have ten million people, and 150 believers, and they kill all but four of them in the seven years that we were there… pushing back against that darkness is a pretty impossible task. You’ve got to push back against that darkness.”

The majority of Christian missionaries will go to sleep tonight in Christian countries, Nik concludes. If our present generation doesn’t care about places like Somalia, the Ripkens warn us that this darkness will spread to other countries and to our future generations.

Where does faith come from, the genealogy of faith

Where Does Faith Come From?

Faith is a confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of God in the face of persecution and adverse consequences. Where does faith come from?

In this episode, Nik explores the genealogy of faith, starting with the role of parents in teaching their children what faith looks like. He examines how early experiences shape beliefs and how those beliefs evolve over time.

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Parents as Role Models

The journey of learning how to live for Christ often begins with parents as role models. In the households of persecuted believers, parents teach their children the importance of living and dying as a believer. They see it as an essential part of establishing a strong genealogy of faith.

Nik recounts the testimony of grown children:

I remember we were in Russia. My father called us into the kitchen. It was the only room that we heated in the house. He had pulled the chair away from the kitchen table. My mom was already standing there crying, so we knew something was up. And my father sat down in the chair, and he took me, my little sister, and my little brother in his lap, and he put his arms around us, and he said, “Kids, tomorrow, I go to prison.”

This suggests that it is the responsibility of parents to be examples in their lifestyle and character, encouraging their children’s spiritual growth by leading them closer to God. When parents lead their children in this way, they set up a foundation for their child’s relationship with Christ.

Parents have the opportunity to communicate biblical values and demonstrate them through action and example regardless of adverse consequences:

My father said to us kids, “All over this part of the country, they are killing entire families who refuse to deny their faith in Christ. If while I’m in prison, I hear that my family is hung to death rather than deny their faith in Christ, I will be the most proud person in that prison.”

Through prayers, conversations, stories from Scripture, and sincere devotionals together as a family, these moments will create memories that help build a character of faith.

Learning How to Live for Christ

The Holodomor was a man-made famine that occurred in Ukraine between 1932 and 1933. It is estimated that anywhere from three to seven million people died as a result of starvation during this genocide. The Soviet Union’s goal of the Holodomor was to break Ukraine’s spirit and force it into submission with Stalin’s government:

They’re systematically starving people to death in this area. If we are called by God to starve to death, we will do so with joy. I learned it from my great-great-grandmother… my great-grandmother… my grandmother… and my mother…. Now I’m living the genealogy of faith that was passed on to me as a treasure, and I’m living it in front of my daughters.

Nik followed up with the Ukranian families of persecuted believers to find out where they learned how to live for Christ. Younger generations learned to defend their beliefs through death by watching their parents and grandparents:

I learned it from my great-great-grandfather who went to that Russian prison, and they killed him two weeks later. He left us a buried Bible in the backyard, and we dug it up. The last thing he wrote to the family was Revelation 2:10, “Be faithful until death.”

Once again, we see that persecuted parents model for their children life with Christian beliefs intact. “You need faith with skin on it,” Nik explains. Even in the midst of persecution from their government, generations of believers chose to stand steadfastly in their beliefs and refused to compromise them.

The Faith of First-Generation Believers

For first-generation believers who don’t have a genealogy of faith, where does faith come from? Nik advises that we build them one.

Other believers can invite them into their lives, walk with them, and hold them accountable. Ruth and Nik Ripken make them a promise:

We have given you the stories from the Word of God directly that model for you and teach you how to live and how to die as a child of God, a follower of Christ. And now, until you have your own genealogy of faith… watch our lives. Watch Ruth and me…we’re going to stumble… but we’re going to model for you, in flesh, how somebody lives and dies in Christ.

The Ripkens show new believers how to live with Bible study, prayer, and intentionality in relationships. “They’re watching us have this genealogy of faith, and that’s why we go,” Nik concludes. “That’s why it’s important to reach the whole family.”

The challenges faced by first-generation believers stem from an embedded belief that religion and government are inextricably linked.

Religion and Government

The separation of religion and government is one of the most important factors in a democracy, yet there are still many countries around the world that have not adopted this belief. This begs the question: should religion and government be separate?

When church and state are combined, it can lead to unfair laws imposed on citizens based on religious beliefs. Religion may become a country’s identity rather than an individual decision. People may deprioritize their own individual spiritual journeys and instead focus on following what the government tells them they must believe in order to be considered a law-abiding member of society.

Are Muslim and Islam the Same?

Nik explains the religious worldview in Islamic countries:

That’s why they’re looking to go to Europe or America. If you’re born in an Islamic country, you’re a Muslim; if you’re born in a Christian country, you’re a Christian. “Muslims live in Muslim countries,” they believe, “and Christians live in Christian countries.”

If you’re born in an Islamic country as a Muslim and convert to Christ, you lose your job, your family, your children, your marriage, and your identity as a citizen of that country.

Is America a Christian Country?

We can easily become complacent in our faith and comfortable with our religion because of cultural norms. Just because a nation claims Christianity doesn’t mean that everyone living within it truly believes and follows Christ.

“The more we believe that we are Christians in a Christian country,” Nik explains, “the less likely we are to be witnesses for Christ. Our identity is in Christ, but through our government.”

Nik tells us that our identity should be rooted in Christ alone, not the culture or country around us. He encourages believers to understand our genealogy of faith. Only then can we remain true witnesses of our faith no matter what societal pressures we face.

Q&A with Ruth and Nik Ripken

Q&A with Ruth & Nik Ripken

Ruth and Nik Ripken bring a wealth of knowledge, experience, and insight about believers all over the world. Join us in this Q&A session as we ask them questions about living abroad as a missionary serving among the persecuted church.

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Can I, in my comfortable Western church, develop the same radical devotion to Christ?

Nik Ripken:

[3:01] If you understand the depth that you’re coming from. The two hindrances to the kingdom of God are racism and consumerism. I grew up so poor that I heard my father say, “I’d rather be poor and go to heaven than be rich and go to hell.”

When I got to Africa, my number one adjustment wasn’t the language, culture, or food. I was able to provide my wife and boys with adequate shelter, adequate food, a couple hours’ drive to medical care, and clean water. She homeschooled. I realized, within the first couple years, I’m in the top 5% of the richest people in Africa. I am the rich young ruler that Jesus commands to go out and sell everything that I have and come to serve him.

When believers in persecution come to America, and Ruth and I keep up with ten of them… after ten years, approximately, only one of them is still practicing their faith in America. And they’ve got scars on their back from being beaten. They have calluses on their wrists and ankles from being chained. They have emotional and physical scars that clearly demonstrate that they were willing to die for Christ, and then somebody rescued them and brought them to America.

And a couple things happened. They looked at the commitment of Christians around them, and said, “This is the Christianity I was willing to die for?” But they also would say things like, “Why would I sell everything to find the pearl of great price, when everybody has a bucket of pearls? Why would I need to go and sell all that I’ve got to buy the field that I’ve discovered treasure in when I already own the houses and fields?”

Racism and consumerism are the two biggest hindrances to the kingdom of God, and that defines the American church which is a multi-billion dollar industry. The answer is yes, but it’s a matter of choice and obedience.

My coming to Christ gives me the opportunity to share Christ with others. When I watch someone else give their life to Jesus, it authenticates our own faith. But the opposite is true. The less that you see lives changed, and you’re just surrounding yourself with institutional Christianity, and you’re not seeing families come to Christ, and people baptized… it’s very difficult to authenticate your faith when you don’t see it being reproduced in others who are so far from Jesus. The answer has to be yes.

Ruth Ripken:

[8:01] I think it has to be a yes, because Jesus commands us to take up our cross and follow him. Whether we’re living on this side of the globe, or alongside our brothers and sisters in persecution, we all have that command to pick up our cross and follow.

Yes, it may be comfortable, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay comfortable. You can do things outside the wall of your church that can help you do something that is very uncomfortable to you so that you can experience a boldness that Christ gives when you’re walking alongside people who don’t know Christ.

As Nik was saying, watching someone turn their life over to Christ… that can radically change you, and you’ll never be the same.

Nik Ripken:

[9:44] I think that when I described America the way I did, I didn’t do so to be ugly but to let people know it’s a hard job.

When people are begging you to tell them about Christ, and they’re coming to Christ literally by thousands in some of the places we’ve served, that just does something. Your soul is singing all the time when you’re from a culture where 93% of people baptized were born in the church.

While we rejoice over those that are true salvations, it’s still very difficult to watch as a lot of these baptisms become teenagers and high school students. We see them no longer continuing their faith.

What is your top advice for strong marriage on the field?

Nik Ripken:

[20:39] Before you go to the field, buy some presents for your wife that you can gift to her on birthdays, Valentine’s day, and special days. Buy some things, even intimate wear. Buy special things and do that secretly. Then, when you have those times and it’s just you, or things get hard, giving your wife gifts not only makes her know that I’m thinking about her in that moment but that I was thinking about her three or four years ago on that furlough.

Now I have a big problem. Everywhere I go in this world, I buy Ruth gifts… anniversary presents, Christmas presents, and birthday presents. I bring them home, and I lose them – I hide them, and I can’t remember. She finds them when we move to somewhere else. So a whole lot of good that one did me.

Ruth Ripken:

[22:47] Make it an adventure. The two of you are on an adventure, and each day is a gift. Don’t get tired of loving your husband, but do things together that allow you to minister together but also have fun together. Make your children, if you have children, part of that together. When you’re tired, don’t say things that you regret. Be cautious. It can wear you down. You might snap and say things… bite your tongue sometimes. Make sure you do devotions together. Make sure you pray together. Those are things that are very important.

One of the things I love about my husband is that I love to listen to him pray. I have loved this from the day I met him. When I hear him pray, I hear his heart. That allows me to connect to him and to his Lord. I get to experience that. Praying together, doing life together. For many weeks, we would be apart… spending time in prayer even when we’re apart, knowing our routine of praying before we go to bed at night and praying in the mornings.

Those were important to continue for ourselves and for our boys. They needed to know that this was something Dad expected of them. As Dad would go off into Somalia or around the globe, our boys would step up. They would continue the process of being the men of the house by protecting me, helping me, and doing all those things they watched their dad model.

The best way you can teach your children about marriage is to allow yourselves to love each other in front of them. They see you loving, they see you doing life together, and that is a thing I hope we’ve gifted our boys with.

Nik Ripken:

[25:30] I find that when I’ve been gone for weeks at a time, sometimes months at a time, that’s when it’s hard to keep my marriage fresh. There’s always coming home and celebrating that. Ruth would set up a weekend where we could immediately go away and have someone take care of the boys.

You have to be creative about it. You have to premeditatively take things with you. Make sure you have each other on your heart.

When you have temptation, run from it. It’s not only what you do; it’s what you don’t do.

It was intensely marriage-oriented and parent-oriented because we were all that we had.

Intimacy at night starts with the breakfast table.

Are there any new books in the works?

Nik Ripken:

[45:32] It’s going to be a children’s book. It will go and cover the children 8 years of age up to 13 years of age. Especially in Eastern Europe and China, the government does horrible things in schools to the children of Christians and religious leaders. I think that might not be a very long book, but it will be an illustrated book about what it’s like to stand in the middle of your gym in middle school with your principal and administrator standing beside you. He leads the entire school to make fun of you because you’re the children of the pastor or the leading local Christians.

What is it like to be made to stay after school and go to the principal’s office? Around the walls of the principal office are the administrators and your teachers ridiculing you because your dad and mom are Christians, or your dad’s the pastor or Christian leader. What would our children do if they were the only Christians in their school, and the leaders of their school led their friends to make fun of them? It’s for parents to read with their children and talk about what it would be like if your faith cost you this.

Then I’ve got a book in me that I’ll probably publish right before I die. I’ve got here a list of stories that missionaries never tell. Every missionary has airplane stories, toilet stories, funny stories of underdressed people in the village – all this kind of stuff that goes on. We’ve got some of the funniest stories on Earth, but people don’t expect it from the Ripkens. We’re probably going to write a book on the things that missionaries will never tell you, but we’re going to tell them. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

How much has transition affected your family life?

Ruth Ripken:

[50:12] Of course it did, but I don’t think it affected it in a negative way. I think it was a real positive… it was always an adventure. We’ve moved quickly several times where we had to just sell everything and move. That was stressful, but it was always fun when we got to the new place. In one place, we even built a house. That was really good for us. The boys always seemed to find friends to play with, and we would always try to walk the neighborhood to see what was going on, where the shops were, and where things were.

Some of the difficulties were when we moved and Dad was traveling so much. We were living in a smaller part of Nairobi and we ended up having to haul water. That was difficult.

The boys always stepped up and helped. When we lived in South Africa, we lived on a generator. Our oldest learned to fix the generator and the water pump. It never failed that when Dad would travel, things would break.

Nik Ripken:

[51:57] We had one time where we moved… I helped move us, but the moment we put the boxes in the house, there was a crisis in Somalia. I had to go in for about a month, and she had to unpack the whole house and set it up. For the next four years, I couldn’t find anything. I was lost in my own house.

But you know what? Children feed off their parents. If the parents get all stressed out, which we do from time to time, then we need to go to our children and apologize. That is really important. Just say, “I yelled today.”

Ruth Ripken:

[56:44] Moving 38 times has helped me realize I don’t need to have all this stuff. Then I don’t have to pack and move it.

Parenting & Corporal Punishment

Nik Ripken:

[52:43] I found, in 38 years in and out of Sub-Saharan Africa, we never saw a child spanked but one time. We were driving in Malawi out in the bush, and all of a sudden our oldest son said, “Dad, look!” The way his voice was, I thought someone was being murdered. We looked in the distance and a male was spanking his child. It never happens. They never touch their children.

What Africa taught me is that most of the time when I spanked my children… I was having a bad day. Africans don’t discipline their children. What do we discipline our children over? They don’t eat all their food, or they don’t put all their clothes away? We’ve never met a rural African kid that doesn’t go to bed hungry. All these street urchins are at deadly risk, and they’re going to eat everything they get. When they wash their clothes in rural places, they don’t have clothes on because they have one set of clothes. If they have a toy, they made it.

We punish our kids because of the stuff we give them.

Think of all the things we discipline our children for. They are not old enough to handle the material wealth we give them. Our children don’t put their clothes away, they don’t put their toys away, they are disrespectful. It’s just that we don’t do things with them, take them places, and spend that quality time with them. We give them so much stuff that they can’t handle it. They have to work for hours just to put their toys away and fold their clothes and put them in the right drawer.

In the places we lived for 35 years, we saw a child punished one time by spanking because they don’t have to discipline their children because they don’t burden them with the stuff we throw at our children. So I told my kids, I’m not going to give you anything else. I’m going to give you a Hot Wheels for Christmas and a lollipop for your birthday. And they said, Dad, that’s not going to work.

It’s harder not to give stuff to our grandchildren. We do set limits on it, and how much we’re going to spend. There’s no evidence in the Bible that Christmas is about us giving gifts to each other. I’m sure we can find out in history where that started. It’s something that Christians have incorporated into their church life that’s not biblical… not in the way that we do it.

Do you miss living overseas?

Ruth Ripken:

[58:25] Yes.

Nik Ripken:

[58:31] This has been the hardest time for Ruth to have me as a husband. I have been miserable. But listen, it’s all my responsibility. We went from going to 80 countries internationally, on the go, just learning and being with God’s people all over the planet. We came home, ran smack into COVID-19 and two serious back surgeries. It’s not just adjusting to America which is hard enough. We went from going 100 miles per hour in countries all over the world to not leaving our home.

As you know, we booked speaking events two years in advance. For almost two years, we couldn’t do any of those. Health limits what we can do.

Coming back to a place that’s 80% white, visiting but one church that has a person of color in it… coming back to the consumerism, materialism, and racism. I’m sure pastors have left the ministry by the thousands because people were fighting over masks and shots. We come from a continent that’s dying of malaria by the hundreds of thousands, and they can’t even afford an aspirin. I can understand non-believers doing this, but walking in and finding pastors leave their churches because they thought they had a mature church. Watching it fall apart because of masks and shots… Ruth and I were not prepared for that.

How do you plant churches in places with existing hostile churches?

Nik Ripken:

[1:02:32] The hardest place on the planet to witness is Judea. Billions of dollars are being used each year to subsidize the existing church in Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan, and India. Christian businessmen tell us that it’s less expensive to send local people to reach their Hindu, Buddhists, and communists neighbors. The issue is that it’s not happening for the most part.

People will evangelize and plant local churches if you pay them. If you’re a businessman, here’s what we ask you to do. If there’s somebody you want to support, go be with that person, walk with that person, and visit with that person. Let them make a business plan and give you a financial accounting at the end of the year. Go when they’re expecting you, and go when they’re not expecting you.

It breaks my heart that 90% of all baptisms reported by local people supported by Westerners… you can discount. I often say to Christian businessmen, “if you ran your business the way you’re giving to the Christian mission world, how many years would your business last?” And they say, “Oh, it’d die in one year.” Why would you do less with God’s kingdom and God’s resources?

There are real reasons, especially in Islam, why local Christians don’t reach out to the next people group around them. You have the racism bit, but… when they reach out to their neighbors of other races and religions, the government and security police will often say… “We’re going to close you down. We’re going to take your church building away.”

The persecutors love to have local Christians funded by outsiders because they can turn it off in one night. They can stop it from coming through the banks; they can stop it from coming through the mail.

Ruth Ripken:

[1:10:57] In many places, Christian girls are kidnapped and married off to a Muslim man and they are never seen again by their parents. When they have children, the grandparents have no clue. I think that it’s real, and these parents struggle with the reality that they will never see their daughter again.

Nik Ripken:

[1:12:47] They say, “Be thankful that one of your daughters is a Muslim.” How many generations does that have to happen for you to say no more?

They say, “Converts have fooled us in the past. We’ve seen them come to Christ. We’ve helped their children get into better schools… we’ve helped them get a job, an apartment, a house. They’ll stay with Christianity until they get every material blessing they can from the church. Then they just go back to their majority religion. […] It’s not cost-effective to reach these people. We have to spend hundreds of dollars in these countries to see one Muslim or Hindu come to Christ, and then they end up going back to Islam and taking whatever we shared with them. […] You don’t know what our neighbors are like.”

The big thing is fear.


Nik Ripken:

[1:17:14] We’ve got to be willing to bring anybody and everybody into the house of God. Indigenous church planting means that they don’t have to become Western to become Christian. But if you take that and you push it to the extreme [where] they are required to worship in their own ethnicity, language, and locations – that’s what we call apartheid. Indigenous church planting is the norm for every mission agency that I’ve known. If you push it to the extreme, that’s apartheid. It’s closer to that than we would care to admit.

Foreign Language Errors

Nik Ripken:

[1:22:07] She said, “Just go to the store. Get some sugar for me, and I’ll bake a cake.” […] It’s one thing to tell a joke. It’s another thing to be the joke.


That’s it for this Q&A session on the Witness & Persecution podcast with Nik & Ruth Ripken.